Why the Male Black Widow is a Real Home Wrecker | Deep Look

This episode of Deep Look is brought to you
by Curiosity Stream. You know what people say about her. She’s the black widow. She mates, and then she kills, right? Here comes her victim now. He’s smaller, less venomous. Kinda cute. Sweet little guy. But before he gets eaten alive…Let’s talk
about this poor sucker for a minute. And how much of a “victim” he really is. This western black widow lives in California. She works pretty hard to make a living. Unlike many spiders that build a new web each
night, she toils continuously on the same one her whole life. This web may look messy, but don’t be fooled. It’s laid out on a grid of draglines that
she attaches to the ground. It’s a multi-story sticky trap that stands
up to some pretty tough game. When she bites, the venom takes hold, bringing
a slow paralysis, As this lethal knitter wraps, and wraps, and
wraps. But that’s not the only thing hanging around
the web…There’s this guy. Adult male widow spiders don’t build webs
of their own. He moves right into hers. Basically, he’s a squatter. He’s staking his claim to her, because he
knows every sticky thread of the web is covered in her pheromones. And that spreads her mating scent far and
wide, potentially attracting a nice selection of other males for her to choose from. Which is not on his agenda. So, he trashes the place. He goes around snipping strands of her web,
undoing all her hard work. He winds up the loose threads in his own silk,
masking her scent from other males in the area. It’s called web reduction. When he finally tries to mate with her — see
that vibrating? That’s him signaling his interest —
He wraps her limbs in his own delicate silk. It probably serves to surround her in his
pheromones. Scientists call it the bridal veil. It seems subdues her. Makes her more approachable. When they mate, he leaves behind a piece of
this curlicue-shaped organ, called an embolus, in her body. It blocks other males from fathering her offspring
later. So let’s see… Lazy. Rude. Messy. Controlling. Ok. Now let’s watch him get eaten. Actually, in most widow spider species, and
there are 31, the males don’t get eaten. They escape scott free. The Australian redback is one of only two
where cannibalism almost always occurs when they mate. He literally somersaults himself towards her
mouth so she can take the first bite, which keeps her…interested. They’ll mate a few times like this before
he finally dies. Scientists describe it as a self-sacrifice. And she’ll take her time, devouring his
insides later. Least he can do, right? This episode is brought to you by Curiosity
Stream, a subscription streaming service that offers documentaries and nonfiction titles
from some of the world’s best filmmakers, including exclusive originals. Want to learn more about spiders’ habitats? Curiosity Stream’s original short film “Big
World Small Garden” captures the hectic and complex natural world of a London backyard. To get unlimited access and your first two
months free, sign up at, and use the promo code Deeplook during the
signup process. So what if a black widow spider bit you? Well, it probably wouldn’t kill you…in
fact, we couldn’t find a documented case of human death from a black widow spider. But it’s definitely no joke. So look, but don’t touch her. Another poison myth? How bout that Halloween candy that was supposed
to kill you? Watch this episode of the Origin of Everything
from PBS Digital Studios to find out the answer to that and other everyday mysteries. And thanks for watching Deep Look!

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